No. 21-12583
United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit

Bias Response Teams Have A Chilling Effect On Free Speech

Orlando, FL — American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) and Independent Women’s Law Center have filed an amicus brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in support of Speech First and students at the University of Central Florida. Speech First is suing the University of Central Florida on behalf of its student members, alleging that the University’s speech policies violate their First Amendment rights. 

The lawsuit, Speech First v. Cartwright, challenges three of the University’s policies — the University’s discriminatory harassment policy, its computer use policy, and its policy surrounding the reporting and investigation of so-called bias incidents. These rules and regulations restrain, deter, suppress, and punish speech about the political and social issues of the day.

The brief filed by ACTA and Independent Women’s Law Center focuses on the third policy — the mechanism that the University uses to collect and investigate claims of bias.  In this case, the University employs a panel of University administrators (including a police officer) to investigate and punish “any behavior or action directed towards an individual or group based upon [the] actual or perceived identity characteristics or background” of the complainant, “without regard to whether the act is legal, illegal, intentional, or unintentional.” The panel’s response to alleged incidents can “involve a variety of activities including discussion, mediation, training, counseling and consensus building” — sometimes summoning not only the person who was impacted by the “bias” but the accused students and bystanders too. Failure to participate in these interventions can be considered punishable “disruptive behavior” under the University’s code of conduct.

In their brief, ACTA and IWLC explain that such bias response teams — once thought to live only on the pages of dystopian novels or in repressive dictatorial regimes — are today neither unusual nor uncommon on college campuses. The brief further explains that investigatory mechanisms such as those used by the University of Central Florida create a climate of fear, chilling the free exchange of ideas on campus. 

Jonathan Pidluzny, ACTA’s vice president of academic affairs, issued the following statement: : “Despite claims that bias committees merely foster ‘safe’ and “inclusive” campus environments, the entire purpose of such reporting structures is to deter the expression of viewpoints that some members of the community consider offensive — in clear violation of the First Amendment.” 

Jennifer C. Braceras, director of Independent Women’s Law Center, issued the following statement: “By encouraging students to report one another for so-called offensive speech, the University of Central Florida has set up a surveillance state reminiscent of the East German Stasi. A desire to encourage civility, however laudable, can never justify the enactment of overbroad and punitive systems that can be used to deter the expression of unpopular political opinions.”

Read the full brief HERE.


The American Council of Trustees and Alumni  is a nonprofit organization dedicated to academic freedom, academic excellence, and accountability in higher education.

Independent Women’s Forum is dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities.

Independent Women’s Law Center advocates for equal opportunity, individual liberty, and respect for the American constitutional order.